Properly channeled, the raw energy that Greensky Bluegrass and special guests Billy Strings, Sam Bush (The New Grass Revival), and Daniel Donato generated during the host band’s epic night one show at the venerated Ryman Auditorium could have powered all of Nashville last night. That said, Greensky put together more than just a cavalcade of “All-Star” sit-ins, the group delivered a complete two-set masterpiece of a show without any help needed. Between its own fine work, the lightning-fast fretboard firestorm from longtime band buddy Billy Strings, fancy fiddling from the multi-instrumentalist whiz Sam Bush, and the hometown heroics of show opener Donato you’ve got as solid a show band as you could possibly assemble on a chilly Nashville Friday night.

If I can just drop the editorial voice for one moment, or paragraph or so, I have to add something personal to that intro if only for full disclosure. I’ve watched this band go from selling five tickets on Wednesday night to simply making enough gas money to get to the next gig to delivering a gut-wrenching “All Four” from the Ryman Auditorium stage for a delirious, sold-out crowd. These five guys in Greensky and their team are—top to bottom—insanely hard-working, truly wonderful people in addition to being some of the finest pickers the progressive bluegrass community has to offer. If you can listen to vocalist and mandolin-picking madman Paul Hoffman sing “All Four” and not at least get a little lump in your throat you need to stop checking that “I’m not a robot” box on all those internet security CAPTCHAs.

Greensky Bluegrass, Sam Bush — “All Four” [Pro-Shot] — 3/8/24

If Anders Beck was spitting fire a little hotter than usual on his resonator guitar, it was because he had living legend Sam Bush on fiddle next to him while “Banjo MikeBont, bass-playing band heartbeat Michael Devol, and Beck’s brother-in-arms on the six-string strung up box Dave Bruzza were in synch and simultaneously crushing it while Paul did that soul-baring thing he does. Life is lived for these moments. Okay, a quick change in the phone booth while you check out the free tease of hometown heroes Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country from below, and I’ll meet you in the next paragraph for a “Back-in-character” review.

Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country – “Workin’ Man Blues” [Pro-Shot] – 3/8/24

Bruzza got things started with a “How Mountain Girls Can Love” that saw a ’round-the-horn jam as each member of the quintet took a turn making sure they were warmed up and ready to get moving. Satisfied that they were dialed in tuning-wise, the “Past My Prime” showed the reality that Greensky is anything but past its, separately or united. Opening act and rising guitar hero Donato brought his next-generation Nashville cat vibe of clean picking and psychedelic over- and undertones out for a fun, early set jam where Anders welcomed the first-time Ryman-playing phenom to the stage with a hearty endorsement of his future. It was nice seeing established bands like Greensky continue to help new stars emerge. Teamwork makes the scene work, as the saying goes.

The rest of the set had Greensky’s many musical hallmarks on full display. Bont’s sheer mastery of aggressive finger rolls and body-shaking thunder, Bruza’s gruff howl contrasted with Hoffman’s aching or joyous vocals, and the matchless emoting of Anders and his note-bending dobro work were felt throughout fine-as-wine originals like “Frederico” and “Tarpology”. The set-closing, longtime band fave cover of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” showed plenty of room for fresh improv in Greensky’s ever-evolving rendition.

Before going much further it’s worth noting just how much proper lights and sound engineering separates good bands from top-tier touring acts, and Greensky Bluegrass is no exception to this rule. Greensky’s longtime lighting designer/director/guru Andrew Lincoln painted the Ryman Auditorium walls like a psychedelic-period Van Gogh, with impressionistic colors and beams that pulsed along with the rise and fall of each track. The WhirliGig-esque spinning lights gave tunes like “Living Over” an added visual component that, with the added benefit of matchless stereo separation from the incredible audio team, helped make each note ring as true as anything can be in this crooked world.

Whether Greensky was suffering from “Cold Feet”, writing “A Letter To Seymour”, or simply “In Control”, the band members were masters of their own sound, completely comfortable in their own musical identity. When a seasoned band like Greensky gets to that point is when the addition of x-factors like an extra pair of hands belonging to the legendary Sam Bush launches the group into a whole new stratum of peak live performance. Bush showed off the chops—on the fiddle, no less—that made him the figure in the scene he is, nailing both the speedy fills and the haunting echo-laden chords with equal, and equally impressive, ease.

Following a darling anecdote from Hoffman about his daughter’s reaction to her daddy’s destination, asking if he would be seeing her “Sam-Paw Bush,” Hoffman openly questioned the reality of going from waiting in line for Bush’s autograph to becoming actual friends with his younger self’s hero. A quick hit of John Hartford’s comical “Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana” saw some impressive moves from a surprise onstage visitor, a free-wheeling Mayor McCheese dancer.

After a Masked Singer-worthy reveal showed it to be none other than Billy Strings beneath the Leftover Salmon mascot/fast food icon chapeau, Greensky Bluegrass welcomed Strings to the mix. The good McDonald’s mascot mayor previously appeared at the Ryman two weeks ago during Billy’s touchingly accurate tribute to Nirvana‘s MTV Unplugged concert.

Bush departed for the wings, but not before a well-earned bow marked by uproarious applause for work well done, past and present. Plugged in, tuned up, and ready to shake off the week-long dust following his own winter tour wrap-up in Atlanta, Strings helped Greensky bring down the house as only he can with set-closing “Courage For The Road”. The living lightning bolt struck fast and furiously, making what was already destined to be a wild close to the set all the more ferocious.

For the encore, Greensky went with a Bruzza-led “My Love Will Not Change” that saw all three of the evening’s guests rejoin the party for a bench-clearing jam. Collectively the audience seemed either dumbstruck or simply too lost in the grooves to ponder things like whether it was luck, good timing, or just plain living right that allowed them the good fortune to attend this confluence of talent and showmanship. With a wink to the fact that it was all likely to happen again on Saturday night for the tour finale, Greensky and guests left for some rest and one last push before pausing the traveling circus for the season.

Though Daniel Donato and his band, Cosmic Country, opened the night with a necessarily shorter show than they might be accustomed to playing, they certainly made the most out of this incredible opportunity. It was Donato’s first time trodding this sacred performing space and after growing up busking just feet away from the Ryman it had to feel like playing on the moon. Donato was clearly not intimidated though, and he and his band went over quite well with the still filtering-in crowd. Their cover of Johnny Cash’s take on “Ghost Rider In The Sky” had the walls of the Ryman shaking and was one of the biggest moments on a night full of them.

This is as fine a time to be a fan of bluegrass, particularly of the jamgrass variety, as there has ever been. Between Greensky being one of the top touring bands in the nation, Billy Strings becoming a legit nationwide superstar, legends like Sam Bush still prowling the stages, and Donato on the rise you can’t ask for better opportunities to see magic get made. That the Ryman is seeing shows like this on a regular basis just confirms that bands like Greensky will be written into the list of history alongside the entire genre’s catalog of all-time greatest. Not a bad night’s work for a bunch of guys who came together for a simple pick-and-a-few-grins done so incredibly good.

Greensky Bluegrass returns to Ryman Auditorium tonight, March 9th, for the tour closer. Tickets are on sale here with complimentary livestreams available to nugs subscribers. Check out a collection of videos from Friday’s show below.

Greensky Bluegrass – “How Mountain Girls Can Love” (The Stanley Brothers), “Past My Prime” [Pro-Shot] – 3/8/24

Greensky Bluegrass, Daniel Donato – “Murder Of Crows” – 3/8/24

[Video: Max Berde]

Greensky Bluegrass, Sam Bush – “Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana” (John Hartford) – 3/8/24

[Video: Max Berde]

Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings – “Courage For The Road” – 3/8/24

[Video: Max Berde]

Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings, Sam Bush, Daniel Donato – “My Love Will Not Change” – 3/8/24

[Video: Max Berde]

View Videos

Greensky Bluegrass – Ryman Auditorium – Nashville, TN – 3/8/24 – Full Audio

[Audio: Papaphunk]

Setlist: Greensky Bluegrass | Ryman Auditorium | Nashville, TN | 3/8/24

Set One: How Mountain Girls Can Love (The Stanley Brothers), Past My Prime, Murder of Crows [1], Reasons To Stay > Exuberance (Airborne or Aquatic?), Train Junkie (Benny Burle Galloway), Who Is Fredrico?, Tarpology, Could You Be Love (Bob Marley)

Set Two: Do It Alone, Living Over, Cold Feet, A Letter To Seymour, In Control, Worry For You [2], All Four [2], Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana (John Hartford) [2] [3] [4], Courage For The Road [4]

Encore: My Love Will Not Change (Del McCoury Band) [1] [2] [3] [5]

[1] w/ Daniel Donato
[2] w/ Sam Bush (fiddle)
[3] FTP
[4] Mayor McCheese (Billy Strings) danced across the stage
[5] w/ Billy Strings